Friday, April 27, 2012

LAPD opens separate jail for transgender detainees

The Los Angeles Police Department will open the first jail facility exclusively housing transgender detainees in May, marking a significant advancement for a group that often suffers violent discrimination and seldom gets relief.

LAPD recently announced in a community meeting in Hollywood that it would open the 24-bed facility for both male and female transgender people at the downtown women’s jail, according to a Los Angeles Times Article. Transgender advocates who attended the meeting with police officials in Hollywood praised the initiative, noting that police officers historically showed little concern for the fate of transgender people who wound up jailed.

Previously, transgender people arrested by the police landed in the station closest to where they were detained, which often would be the Hollywood Community Police Station. Transgender women suspects resided with the jails’ male populations, putting them at risk of sexual assault and other violence.

The LAPD policy change includes a provision requiring police officers to treat transgender people with respect and courtesy and prohibits physical searches of them designed to determine their biological sex. Police officers also will be trained to address transgender people by their preferred name and gender.
Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, noted after the meeting that the new policy took five years to develop. The process involved numerous meetings, a survey of transgender people regarding their experiences with the LAPD and the preparation of a report recommending policy changes.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck promised disciplinary action would be taken against any police officers who violated the policy.

The new policy appears to be a promising first step for the police department of one of the nation’s largest cities, but it fails to address the issue of what happens to transgender suspects who are arraigned in court and transferred for longer stays in the Los Angeles County Jail. That facility remains unaffected by the progressive measure, which places the Los Angeles transgender community back in the same predicament – one that transgender communities across the nation face if they get confined to jail.

There’s no escaping the reality of jailhouse violence, and it’s a dangerous setting for anyone. The threat is greater for LGBT people, and it is even more dangerous for transgender people who tend to stand out in such a close, basic environment.

“Injustice at Every Turn,” the results of a study about transgender people’s experience in society published in 2011, revealed that 22 percent of the 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming study participants had experienced harassment by police, with those of color experiencing even higher rates. Half said they would be uncomfortable asking for police assistance, 16 percent said they had been physically assaulted in jail and 15 percent they had been sexually assaulted in jail.

The Dallas County Jail holds both suspects arrested by police prior to court appearances and people sentenced to jail terms. Others housed there are awaiting transfers to prisons to serve sentences.
Dallas County Jail’s policy concerning LGBT people in that it allows inmates to self-identify themselves as gay or transgender and request confinement in a separate tank, but it is optional, according to a study officials about their project. In years past previous sheriff’s administrations allowed jail personnel to place inmates in gay or “queer” tanks, but that policy was dropped after gay activists protested the practice as discriminatory.

Lesbian inmates have always remained with the general population in Dallas County Jail.

Dallas community activist Pamela Curry, who is a transgender woman, said she raised the issue of inmate safety to Valdez several years ago because she was concerned about the treatment of transgender women whom had complained about being “felt up” by police officers and tossed into all-male tanks. She praised Valdez for her concern about inmates and efforts to ensure their protection from mistreatment.
Jails in some other major cities segregate gay inmates as it used to be done in Dallas, and it is unlikely there is going to be much movement in other states toward adopting the LAPD model without significant pressure being brought against public officials.

In addition to the prohibitive cost of establishing such facilities during tough economic times, there is little compassion among taxpayers and public officials for transgender people -- or any others for that matter -- who get confined to jail. The attitude of, “They are getting what they deserve,” that pervades society and the criminal justice system is likely the major stumbling block in making jails and prisons safer.

Many a crime victim has been advised by a prosecutor that a plea deal should be satisfactory to them because the defendant would be unlikely to survive the prison term..

It seems incredible that anyone serving a jail or prison term would more than likely be threatened by rape or other violent assault while under the supervision of law enforcement officers, but that is the reality. Amazingly, rampant drug and alcohol use reportedly accompanies widespread criminal activity being committed in state prisons across the country under the very noses of the guards.

Some people probably think that if jails and prisons remain scary places it will act as a deterrent to crime, but the statistics contradict that. Over the years the number of jails and prisons being built has barely kept up with the number of people being sentenced to confinement, and many of those are repeat offenders.

Until the general public becomes concerned about ensuring humane, safe and lawful living conditions in jails and prisons, they will remain terrifying places for transgender people and everyone else. Imprisonment shouldn’t be a pleasurable experience, but it shouldn’t be life-threatening one either.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Texas judge ignores blogger's First Amendment rights argument, orders website forfeited to state

A legal drama playing out in Texas involving a former muckraking website publisher appears to be raising First Amendment right issues, and it might also offer a good lesson in decorum for anyone who likes to get online and express an opinion or repeat what they’ve heard or seen.

Joey Dauben, publisher of the Ellis County Observer, is fighting back against law enforcement agencies’ efforts to seize the domain name in connection with his prosecution in Ellis County on charges of “fraudulent use or possession of identifying information.”

Dauben sent out a flurry of press releases this week to local, state and national publications in an effort to draw attention to his battle. The release included a copy of his answer to the petition in the case by the plaintiff, The State of Texas, which asks Judge Bob Carroll of the 40th Judicial District Court in Ellis County to order Dauben to order the forfeiture of the domain name.

The judge subsequently ordered the forfeiture during a hearing on April 20, and Dauben vowed to appeal the decision. The district attorney disputed Dauben’s contention that his First Amendment rights were being violated, saying those rights do not apply in asset forfeiture proceedings.

The case is odd because journalists who are charged with crimes in connection with their reports usually are working in foreign countries, not within U.S. boundaries. Civil lawsuits typically are the routes disgruntled subjects of media reports take when they seek remedies, but in Dauben’s case the Red Oak Police Department filed criminal charges against him.

Dauben said attorneys with whom he has consulted told him they viewed the criminal case as "bizarre" and considered it and the forfeiture action unprecedented.

Dauben, who is serving as his own attorney in the proceeding, asked the court to dismiss the action pursuant to the Texas Citizens Act because it “constitutes a retaliatory action initiated by the State of Texas in regards to communications made on this forum by the owner of the website and domain name.”

Law enforcement officials maintain that Dauben should forfeit the asset because he allegedly committed a felony in the summer of 2011 by publishing on his website copies of documents that revealed the name, address, phone number and work history of a Red Oak man whose ex-wife accused him of molesting their child.

Dauben also allegedly threatened the man with violence on his website, according to an indictment returned by an Ellis County grand jury in January. The publisher said in a telephone interview that he wrote the man should “die” if he had molested the child.

The man’s ex-wife, who provided Dauben with the copies of the documents, was later charged with filing a false police report, and Dauben issued a public apology to the man on his website. Dauben claimed in his recent press release that Ellis County officials are now “criminalizing a civil matter.”

Dauben also alleged in the press release that law enforcement officials who fear and resent his commitment to exposing corruption are attempting to permanently silence him and ensure that all of the websites and newspapers he published under the Freedom of the Press LLC banner are shut down as well.

“By criminalizing the publication of news articles or opinions, no matter how controversial, with indictments, imprisonments, and now seizures of the media properties, especially a website that has demolished the political corruption  in this county for several years, it validates everything I’ve been writing about and exposing,” Dauben said in the press release. “Freedom of the Press is under a full-fledged assault by the forces I have spent more than a decade exposing, but despite this latest attempt and other restrictions placed upon me by other powers and principalities, I will not cease my main role in exposing evil.”

Dauben has enraged many public officials in the small counties south of Dallas, including former gay Seven Points Mayor Joe Dobbs and his police officer partner who were the subjects of Dauben’s  intense criticism. Dobbs wound up resigning as mayor before his term expired after being charged by Henderson County officials with abuse of office and in connection with allegedly interfering with a law enforcement investigation. Dobbs’ partner, Michael Tayem, also was charged in connection with a complaint filed by a citizen alleging he was brutalized by police.

Dauben, who is 31, initially was arrested at his home office on Cedar Creek Lake 50 miles southeast of Dallas in late December 2011 on charges of engaging in sexual activity with a 15-year-old male teenager four years ago in 2007 during a church camping trip. That case was filed by the Navarro County District Attorney following a Texas Rangers investigation.

Dauben, who has proclaimed his innocence of the charges, was jailed for two months on a $200,000 bond. The publisher said although he asked for a court-appointed attorney after declaring he was indigent, he did not receive representation until after the Dallas Voice made phone calls to the judge’s office and published a story on Instant Tea.

The Ellis County indictment, which was issued in connection with a raid on his home office last summer that resulted in his computer equipment being seized, was returned against Dauben while he was in jail.
The bond on the four-count sexual assault charge was lower to $50,000 after Dauben obtained legal representation, and he was released on the condition that he not use the Internet, wear an ankle monitor, remain in the area of Ellis and Navarro Counties, report to probation officers in both counties weekly and not get within 200 yards of any children.

Dauben, who identifies as heterosexual, vowed that he would continue to fight all of the charges against him and resist the state’s efforts to seize his website’s domain name. He has asked for a jury trial.
Ellis County officials managed to get several of his websites in Texas shutdown, but a Florida judge barred them from closing down one in Tallahassee on First Amendment grounds, Dauben said. “They’ve got a fight on their hands,” Dauben said. “I don’t give in or give up easily, no matter the odds.”

Prosecutors in Navarro County reportedly offered Dauben a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. If convicted at trial, his punishment could amount to life in prison.

Dauben said in the press release he was also still committed to exposing corruption in government. “If I’m left with a Crayon and construction paper, I’ll keep exposing the cesspool I’ve fought for years to drain,” Dauben said.

Dauben, whose media career has spanned 11 years since he started work as a reporter for a local newspaper, launched the Ellis County Observer in October 2005. In 2009 Dauben was jailed for 12 days in lieu of a $1.5 million bond for publishing the mug shot of a Combine police officer in connection with one of his investigative news reports. After his release from jail, Dauben sued and received a financial settlement from the City of Combine in 2011.

If Dauben, who said he believes all of the criminal charges facing him are the product of a conspiracy to silence him, manages to get out of the jam in which he currently finds himself, he has vowed to operate his publications with more restraint. And that’s a good point for anyone who wants to become a blogger to remember. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dominica gay cruise ship flak follows on heels of glowing LGBT global tourism report sponsored by UN group

It’s some kind of law of human nature. Just when everything appears to be going hunky-dory something totally unexpected always seems to blow up in the collective faces of everybody involved. That’s what happened recently in the wake of the release in February of the 2012 United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Global Report on LGBT Tourism.

The report, which included a glowing statement by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, noted that the growing acceptance of LGBT people around the world was allowing other countries to prosper from tourism while helping to spread harmony and understanding among cultures. The Madrid-based organization released the groundbreaking report in cooperation with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association of Fort Lauderdale, and it included reports by several other experts on tourism from around the globe.

Then just a few short weeks later, all hell broke loose in the Caribbean, which was one of the areas where the report noted more work was needed in terms of greater acceptance of diversity.

By now there probably aren’t too many people left who haven’t seen the photographs of the two naked men engaged in sexual intercourse on the stateroom balcony of their cruise ship in broad daylight in the port of Dominica and heard the stories about their arrests on March 21, overnight stay in jail, guilty pleas for indecent exposure, high fines and early returns in disgrace to California.

For sure, it will be a long time before anyone forgets the story of what happened when the Atlantis Events-chartered Celebrity Summit cruise ship pulled into the harbor at Roseau, Dominica, with 2,000 queens aboard in late March and dropped anchor.  The island’s natives no doubt will never forget it, and that’s good enough reason for an all-gay cruise not to return there in the foreseeable future.

That’s how Bob Witeck of Witeck Communications, one of the participants in the creation of the LGBT travel report, sees it.

“The trends are global and encouraging, and it is good news for LGBT travel opportunities – but it is not at all a green light for us to be open and unafraid in a number of high-risk destinations around the globe,” Witeck said.

Witeck said that while much progress has been seen in terms of acceptance in Europe, much of Latin America, Southeast Asia, South Africa and the Pacific, other destinations are more problematic. He noted that a government sponsored anti-gay crackdown was underway in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In fact, homosexuality is still illegal in 76 countries and punishable by death in five of them. The U.S. Department of State website warns American travelers to know the laws of the countries they plan to visit and not to violate them. It adds a U.S. Passport is of no help to someone arrested for a crime in a foreign country.

“With notable exceptions, the Caribbean is a challenge for organized gay travel entrepreneurs,” Witeck said. “We know that Puerto Rico, Cuaraco, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Barts and St. Maarten’s, generally speaking, are welcoming and often popular with gay travelers. Jamaica is notoriously hostile as have been some other destinations – including Dominica in this light.”

Witeck said that he believes Atlantis Events tries to educate its passengers about laws, customs and expectations in its destinations, but the two passengers  apparently “pushed the boundaries of public sex that would be problematic in many countries,” not just the Caribbean.

As it happens, Dominica is not listed as a member nation on the United Nations World Travel Organization’s website.

Immediately after the arrest of the two men in Dominica, the island’s tourism minister, Ian Douglas, issued a statement saying officials do not promote travel to Dominica based on a group’s “orientation.” The official apparently made the statement in response to a large outcry from island residents about the all-gay cruise being allowed to dock in Dominica. Many residents also claimed the men had not been punished severely enough.

Edison James, the United Workers Party leader of Dominica, said the international media had unfairly criticized the nation for its response to the men’s actions and urged the government to “do something about it.”

Dominica News Online, which covered the arrests of the two men and subsequent developments, conducted an online poll about whether all-gay cruises should be allowed to dock in Dominica, and the response was favorable, although it is unclear how many of those who took part in the poll were island residents. The results showed 71 percent of the respondents saying yes and 27 percent saying no.

After the controversy broke and some critics called for a boycott of Atlantis Events, its president, Rich Campbell, said the travel planning company had done nothing wrong and he planned to return the cruise to Dominica in the future.

Everything considered, Witeck said prudence should be on the agenda. One issue that apparently has remained unexplored is the impact of the controversy on any LGBT people who might happen to have been born on or live on the island. In response to an e-mail inquiry, an unidentified editorial representative responded that there are no gay bars on Dominica, and that the LGBT people who live there live “undercover” because of widespread anti-gay bias among island residents.

“I think it wise for any gay travel operator to avoid the likeliest hostile climates, simply because the potential for danger for risk appears higher especially for visible groups of gay men,” Witeck said. “For solo or couple travel, it is arguably easier to pass under the radar most of the time, and not put yourself at risk in the same way.”

In terms of conduct, Witeck said “it should go without saying” that sexual conduct in public puts most people – straight or gay – at risk, especially in religious nations with the least tolerance.

UNWTO and IGLTA officials were unavailable for comment because they were attending a global tourism conference in Brazil.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Purchasing powers helps push the LGBT rights movement

If I had to choose one little phrase that best defines the remarkable advancement of LGBT people in modern society over the past 50 years, it would have to be, “money talks.”

I base that partially on the recent report projecting America’s LGBT buying power for 2012 at a whopping $790 billion, an analysis that is released annually by Bob Witeck, a marketing expert who heads Witeck Communications and has provided the financial information for two decades. He noted this year that about 6.7 percent of the adult U.S. population, an estimated 16-million people 18 and older, self-identifies as LGBT.

But I also base it on my personal experience.

I first realized this phenomenon when I was about 14 years old and was still wavering between whether I was or wasn’t a homosexual, a word I first spied in an Ann Landers advice column in 1963.  After consulting the giant dictionary at the public library I realized such people truly did exist in society, and that when people used the word “queer” or “fag” it wasn’t just a joke or an insult. It was for real.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when LGBT people weren’t openly discussed in the newspaper, on television or in group conversations, but that’s the way it was a half-century ago.

My discovery put me on alert for any mention of real people in connection with the use of the slurs, and it wasn’t long before I hit pay dirt.

At the time my family owned a successful used car lot and salvage auto parts store near Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. I used to hang around there a lot after school and on Saturdays, partly out of boredom and partly because a fascinating array of people visited the store.

One of the best customers was a well-dressed man in his 40s who wore a black toupee and was forever losing the hubcaps on his car. He apparently drank a lot and spent much of his time during the evenings visiting nightclubs where his hubcaps would get stolen. Either that or he lost them by running into curbs as he drove home drunk at night. There was a lot of speculation about that.

After the man, who was a local divorced businessman, left one day, I overheard another customer tell my older brother that he e couldn’t believe my family would do business with that “queer.” My brother, who was about 30 and married, replied, “Listen, that man is a good customer. He pays cash. That’s all I need to know about him.” End of conversation.

Now that intrigued me, and it wasn’t long before I was ferreting out more information. As it happened, I also used to hang out at another business down the road that was owned by the parents of a couple of my friends. It was a restaurant, and I knew the mysterious man was a customer there too.

One evening I was talking to the wife of the prosperous restaurant owner who also liked to hang around supervising the cooks and waitresses, mostly because she tended to tip the bottle herself and it was a convenient setting. After a couple of hours of supervising I knew she tended to get talkative, relaxed and it was possible to approach subjects she otherwise might prefer to avoid.

So I asked her about the mysterious man, whom she acknowledged having known for years. From that point, all I really had to do was sit back and listen because the story tumbled out. I learned the man’s wife had discovered his proclivity for other men and divorced him even though they had a daughter.

After the divorce and the resulting scandal, the man had decided to hell with it and began to pursue his interest in men with relish. It turned out he was one of many such men living in Wichita Falls, and he was quite popular in the mini-society.  The entire group of men frequented the restaurant, and they often entertained airmen from the air force base there, she said.

Again, I got the same message from the restaurant owner’s wife. “They drink, they spend lots of money, they tip the waitresses well, and they’re always nice to everybody,” she said. “Their money is as good as everybody else’s.”

The restaurant owner’s wife, whom I always viewed as something of an intellectual who might have been capable of achievements in her own right, went on to tell me that one of society’s dirty little secrets was that everybody knew that there always had been and always would be a certain percentage of both men and women who preferred the company of their own sex to the opposite one. She noted her husband shared her views in all respects.

In the space of about an hour’s conversation my view of the world had suddenly become more practical and more sophisticated at the same time. And the steady growth of the LGBT community’s size and buying power over the years has proved to me that the slightly tipsy restaurant owner’s wife knew what she was talking about.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

When you cruise the oceans gay-style, why not make use of those pretty, expensive bathing suits you packed?

When traveling out of the country it’s always a good idea to pack lightly for ease of luggage transport, dress down so as not to attract the attention of pickpockets and other criminals and oh, yes – don’t remove your clothing in public view of shocked, conservative natives.

A Palm Springs couple on an all-gay Caribbean cruise apparently forgot to follow that simple rule recently when their Celebrity Summit cruise ship chartered by Atlantis Events out of Puerto Rico docked in Roseau, Dominica. People on the island reportedly observed the two men, who have been partners for 17 years, either naked or engaged in sexual activity on their balcony, depending on the report you read. Local police officers boarded the ship and arrested them on charges of sodomy, which is still highly illegal on several Caribbean islands.

A photograph has subsequently surfaced that appears to the show the men on their balcony “humping like rabbits,” as the report accompanying the picture described it.

It was one of those outdoor relationships, the men’s attorney explained to the court. “They were struck by the beautiful mountains, the clean and clear fresh air and were having a few cocktails, and so threw caution to the wind,” she told an obviously un-amused judge who called them “rogues and vagabonds” and fined them $900 after they pleaded guilty to indecent exposure, according to the Associated Press. The Los Angeles Times reported the fine amounted to $4,000, and that the men were held in jail overnight where they were taunted.

After the Dominican judge got through with them, the police drove the two men to the airport for their return to California. Their cruise ship with 2,000 passengers on board had departed the previous evening without them for St. Barts.

An Atlantis official said he had talked to the two men, and they were in good spirits, but when the two men arrived at LAX International Airport they were not so upbeat, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The men told the Times reporter they were simply sun bathing nude, not having sex.

The cruise vacation official also claimed the outcome would have been the same had it been a heterosexual couple.

Well, so much for that vacation, the couple might be saying now, although it could make for good cocktail conversation in certain social settings in the future. After all, the men’s names and indiscretion have now been circulated around the globe so it’s not like they can keep it a secret.

I can just hear it now around the family dinner table at Christmas, “I guess you didn’t get a chance to take a lot of pictures?”

The fact is homosexuality is still condemned in much of the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, Barbados and Dominica. Still, all-gay Caribbean cruises are popular and welcomed by tourist officials when the tourists respect local laws and social conventions.

On Grand Cayman Island, there are signs on the beach advising men and women to wear cover-ups over their bathing suits when walking from their hotels and condos to the beach. These islanders definitely tend toward the conservative side of things. Just a little over a decade ago a cruise ship carrying an all-gay passenger list was denied docking privileges in the Cayman Islands, but that apparently has not happened again.

In other parts of the world the attitudes regarding homosexuality vary, but for the most part LGBT travelers are welcomed if they observe the basic standards of conduct they would ordinarily practice in their cities of residence. I understand it is rare today to come across a hotel that would prohibit a male couple or a female couple from sharing a room, although I’m sure that can still happen in some places.

As it happens, I will be going on my first cruise this summer. It will be an all-gay cruise Mediterranean from Barcelona, Spain, to Morocco and back. One thing is for sure, I’m not about to ruin my first cruise by doing something stupid like getting naked in public view of people I know frown on it, no matter how exhilarating and refreshing the breeze and scenery might be. I’m sure the Moroccans would look a little askance at such behavior.

I’m not shocked by nudity, and I have been to nude beaches. So if that is the scene on the cruise ship while at sea I won’t be hiding in my stateroom. But at my age I think I will remain clothed, and I’m sure the other passengers and crew will appreciate that.

Still, I would hope other people who might be more daring would not risk getting arrested and ruining their vacation when the ship is anchored near a port. And it might not be such a bad idea for the cruise ship officials to remind passengers that acting out inappropriately can lead to some really unpleasant repercussions.